Shut It Down
1. One day you wake up to a mouth tasting of fuzzy socks and leftover garlic, and it occurs to you that maybe this is it – the worst part of your day, done, out of the way before you’ve even opened your eyes.
It will actually turn out to be later, mid-egg-salad-sandwich, when your long-term girlfriend informs you over the phone that her day’s adventures have included slicing open a corpse’s penis. That will be the actual low point of a day littered with low points – mundane department store job, eating your lunch in a locker room permeated by the Dorito-esque smell of shoe soles, being told off by a millionaire because all the Alexander McQueen books had scratched covers underneath their plastic wrap.
Nope, nope, nope. It is the phone call.
“Today has been extra awful, baby, like everyone is in a bad mood and wants me to join them. I’m exhausted and I’ve only been here three hours.”
“I cut open a man’s crotch today,” she announces, almost like she’s expecting a cookie.
Egg-salad, already not your favorite food but something you eat when money has stretched especially wafer-thin, becomes slimey in your mouth.
“Remember when I told you that I was eating?” The sandwich sails smoothly into the nearest garbage bin, clearly your calling as a basketball star was missed.
“Yes.” She sounds pleased with herself.
“I’m going to go. When I’m certain my food has digested and is staying down, I’ll maybe call you back.”
“Okay!” The defiance in her tone makes you crazy.
2. You love his taste in music but his taste in friends is horrific. Or so it seems, from the tales he tells. His stories are populated by folk that function more as cautionary tales than anything else – tales of people OD-ing, going crazy, leaving town in the night.
Occasionally bigger slivers pour through the fabric of your conversations, usually during his mid-evening beer break; ghostly silent lower middle-class home, drug-addled forest shenanigans, driving around California embraced by weather that never dropped below zero.
He’s never mentioned inviting you to the ol’ homestead to meet his parents – a vast distance away, true, but one easily conquerable through the use of flying machines – and they remain shadowy 1950s tropes. His father would be in a trench coat over a grey suit, heading out to work with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. His mother would have made the best of a middling situation by wandering around the empty house in a poufy dress that matched her beehive ‘do.
Days pass in a cyclical pattern of Roseanne reruns and canned soup. Cigarettes are mandatory while pants are optional, especially in summer when the heat blazed into the small apartment, leaving the both of you goo-i-fied messes.
One summer evening you get home from visiting your parents, earlier than expected. He is pantless as usual, but has a guest.
You move out and take the canned soup with you, donating them to a homeless man you pass on your way toward the metro.
“I need a can opener!” Homeless Guy calls.
“Go see apartment 611,” you yell back over your shoulder. “4073 St. Urbain.”
3. You go out, the three of you, to a punk club in the basement of an otherwise abandoned warehouse just off of St. Cath and St. Dominique. They are on drugs while you’re as sober as the day is long. Being around drunk people makes you distinctly uninterested in drinking, being around high people makes you want to join a nunnery.
New Friend is rocking a handlebar moustache and a faux-vintage 80s hair-band shirt. Its faux-ness is clear by the perfectness of the fade on the band’s logo: no peel, just lightened lettering. A handlebar moustache is a big investment for an ironic statement.
Their conversation, which you are listening to, is being liberally coated in clichés and adages.
“I just thought, you know, follow my heart. Best course of action.”
Handlebar nods along like these words are worthy of being burned onto rock tablets. “You have to hold your own,” he agrees.
Does life have to be a series of clichés?
You let loose a big bark of a laugh before getting up and walking out. The night air feels good on your face after being immersed in so much cig smoke and bullshit.
4. People come and go. Lucy, apart from being alarmingly pleased by the prospect of being elbows-deep in a corpse, has stuck around. The department store became unbearable and you left, bought a ticket back to North America and away you went.
To long distance or not to long distance, that is the question.
You chose: to. With all the wrong people that exist out there, she still feels like the right one.
So your life, your day, begins to revolve around Skype and Facetime and postcards and daydreams.
The image on-screen wavers, cuts out.
You go to the small Call button, try again. She’s peering into the shot while the camera focuses, relief suddenly flooding her expression at the reappearance.
You went away, she mouths.
“I can’t hear you. Is your volume on?”
“And you can hear me?”
She nods again, types: Yes.
I wish we’d said bye before this happened, you type.
I can hear you, she write-reminds.
“Oh yeah,” you say, laughing. “I forgot.”
It’s almost like being in bed together, bodies screen-to-screen. It’s so much darker where she is, her face barely visible for all the shadows. Behind your computer is a window and afternoon sunlight blazes in.
Will you sing me to sleep?
She shakes her head and so you minimize the screen, her tiny face reverting to the left-hand corner. You open a new window and scroll through pages of songs looking for something; nothing too sad or schmoopy.
A lot of song tunes live dormant in your brain, random bits of melody and verse, easily accessible with lyrical guidance.
She fluffs her pillows before wiggling downwards into her favorite spot. Her sweet, bright face is hopeful.
Your voice isn’t about to get a record contract any time soon, but she smiles and it spurs you on. Cough. Clears throat.